Category: Recipes

Some dal notes

You make a dal by cooking a lentil/mix of lentils and seasoning it with a mix of spices (or tadkas). So, the possibilities are endless. Some quick notes

Lentils

  • Use any lentils you’d like. I’ve used Toor dal, which is a kind of yellow split lentils, moong dal, both split (yellow) and unsplit (green), red lentils (masoor), black eye peas, it does not matter. They all have a distinct taste and tend to pair with different kinds of spices.
  • Use whole (with skin) lentils if you want more texture and nutrition. They will take a little longer to cook. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you may have to soak in warm water for a few hours before cooking.
  • Use split and skinned lentils for a more soupy, creamy consistency. They tend to cook faster
  • I have always owned a pressure cooker, so I do not know how long it takes to cook lentils without one, I guess it depends on the lentils. In general, simmer covered until soft is the rule, I guess (I’ve never had to do it!). But, a pressure cooker is a great thing to have if you will eat lentils a lot.
  • Using a mixture of one faster cooking and one slower cooking lentil will give you lots of texture, good if you’re looking for almost a one course meal.
  • Adding fresh spinach, or kale, or any other fast cooking green is a good way to use up old greens.
  • Feel free to add vegetables as necessary, it’s your dal!
  • Tomatoes are useful for providing some tartness. I put tomatoes in almost every dal I make.

Spices

  • Depends on how intense you want the dal to be. In most meals, the dal is a complement, and is not meant to overwhelm the flavours of the other dishes. In this case, go easy on the spices. If you’re looking for a one course meal and a hearty one, make your dal nice and spicy. It all depends!
  • Most whole spices keep for a long time if well covered.
  • I rarely use powdered spices in dal unless I’m going for an especially unsubtle dal.

Cooking tips

  • Using fresh green/red chillies usually provides enough “hot” spice. Use them whole/slitted for a subtle flavour and chopped fine and sauted for a bigger bite. I use thai green/red chillies, they’re usually more predictable. You will not need more than 2-3 for 1 cup of uncooked dal. Chillies are usually the first “wet” ingredient added, as you need some oil to release the spice and if there are too many other ingredients present, they will not pick up enough heat.
  • Cilantro – Some like it, some don’t. I don’t think it adds much in taste, but it sure as hell improves the visual appearance. Always chop fine, some of the juices should come out when you chop. This avoids that dreaded “soapy” texture. Add at the end.
  • You can also use the green tips of green onions to provide some colour.

Some classic combinations

  • Yellow lentils with ginger, garlic, chillies, lime, tomato and cumin.
  • This is a good complementary dal, goes great with rice or chapatis and home style fried potatos, or pretty much any vegetable dish with a bit of flavour. The dal itself will not have too many aromatic flavours.

Serves 4

Yellow lentils (toor dal or similar – 1 cup)
Ginger – a 1-2 inch piece grated
Garlic, a few cloves – chopped fine, minced or pressed.
Cumin seeds, a couple of tea spoons
Tomatoes – Enough to provide the dal with nice texture. Do not chop fine, halves or quarters work better.

  • Cook the yellow lentils until soft, mash coarsely. Texture is a very personal thing. I prefer a dal where there is enough fine particles to make a stable suspension gravy, but enough coarseness so it is not baby food consistency. You get to pick! Same with the amount of water, you pick. Most lentils will absorb water as they cool and thicken, so you’ll need to add more next time you eat it any way.
  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, once the oil is warm (never needs to get too hot here as you’ll be adding all the ingredients quickly) and you don’t want anything to be over done), add the cumin seeds and let them fry for a bt till you can smell the oils releasing and the cumin changes colour.
  • Add 2-3 slitted green chillies to the oil, and let the oil release some of the chilli goodness.
  • Add the garlic and ginger, let them cook for about a minute or so. If you’re partial to one or the other, mix and match them up as you see fit. A warning, too much ginger will make the dal bitter.
  • Add the tomatoes, cook till they soften up a little bit and the skin is starting to separate from the body
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, turn off.
  • Season with cilantro
  • Add lemon juice to taste. I like it lemony, some people only want a hint.

A Hearty, bold Dal

This one’s a meal. I made one for a potluck the other day with blackeyed peas and a kidney bean type lentil that was quite loaded!

  • 1 cup dry blackeyed peas (or 2 cups canned), half a cup of any other slower cooking lentil. Note, if you don’t want to cook the lentils together (especially if you don’t know what will cook when), just cook them separately. Cook the blackeyed peas to a mashable consistency and the other to a chewy, but not mashable (think chickpeas in chickpea salad) consistency.
  • One medium sized onion, chopped fine
  • As much ginger or garlic as you need. The usual amount for a 4 serving meal is about a 2 inch piece of ginger and 3 cloves of garlic.
  • 2-3 green chillies, red chillies, chooped fine, or just use red chili powder to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin powder

(note – this is considered one of those classic ratios in North Indian cooking, the 3:1 coriander:cumin, don’t know why, but it works, so I don’t mess with it).

  • Garam Masala, or any aromatic spice mix. I sometimes put in some ras el hanout, ) to give it an extra aromatic kick, very optional, your dal will just taste different, not better or worse!
  • A couple of medium sized tomatoes, quartered. I usually use a juicy tomato (roma, etc), not a sandwich type (beefsteak).

Directions

  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, medium heat. Once the oil is ready, add the chopped chillies, fry for about 10 seconds or so (feel the sizzle!), then add the onions and saute until transluscent.
  • Add the ginger and garlic, saute for another minute or so (you’ll smell it when it’s done!).
  • Reduce the heat and add the dry spices, cumin powder, coriander powder (and chilli powder if you did not use the chillies in the beginning).
  • Immediately add the tomatoes and cook till a little tender (skin separation is always a good sign).
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, add the aromatic spice mix (optional) and turn off.
  • Season with cilantro or green onions. As always, feel free to add greens, or soupy vegetables for more texture.

Fortuitous Fusion – A Recipe

No, this is not about the sun and why we are all alive today, it’s more about writing down a cooking experience for me to not forget 🙂

Anyway, we were having a couple of people over for dinner, and I was in the mood for either an aviyal, or a Chettinad Fish concoction of some kind. But one of our guests was vegan, so no fish and no yogurt, what to do?

Note, this may already be a well known dish, but it is new to me!

A Chettinad style Aviyal

Spices for Seasoning

  • 1-2 tsp of mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp of fenugreek (methi) seeds – these are bitter and add texture and body
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns – Same, texture and surprise pockets of spice
  • Curry leaves

Spices for Grinding

  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera) – Always be mindful of the magic ratio, 3:1 for coriander:cumin)
  • 2 tsp aniseed – the magic ingredient, aromatic and fresh breath smelling, but interesting flavour as well
  • 1-2 tsp of chilli powder. You know how hot your chilli powder is, you know how hot you want your dish to be, careful to begin with. It is also okay to add chilli powder towards the end, it is a prefried and ready to use spice.
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

Vegetables for Steaming
A mix of what you would consider “avial” vegetables, so plantain, pumpkin, are nice. I also add carrots, peas, beans, broccoli, does not matter. Whatever you use, think of the colour, and the mix of using a starchy vegetable (potato, plantain, etc), a squashy vegetable (pumpkin, zucchini, etc), some fibrous ones (carrots, beans) and peas are always nice. How much? Well, as much as can fit in about 3-4 cups of stew and you know whether you like it all vegetabley or mostly liquid!

The Base

  • One large onion
  • 2-3 medium size tomatoes – juicy, not beefy
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, more if you want to repel vampires (and other people)
  • A can of coconut milk, look for one without preservative, no idea why they have to add preservative to something that is already in a can. If you have time, make it yourself

Strategy
Why does cooking need strategy? Because parallel processing is fun and you’ll be done sooner, so you can get on with the more important things in life!

  • Chop the veggies for steaming – Medium size pieces so you can bite into them. Coin all cylindrical veggies and cube all others (not the peas, floret broccoli, etc). Once done, steam them, I use a pressure cooker without pressure, but you can just put in a pot with a bit of water and cover. You can also do them Italian style as well, sauté in oil, but it will take longer and won’t really work too well for the squash
  • While the veggies are steaming, use your favourite pot for making the base. Add some oil (use coconut oil to be 100% authentic, or just use your favourite high temperature cooking oil).
  • While the oil is heating up, chop the onions fine and locate your spices for seasoning. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. How do you know it’s hot? Why, the mustard seeds will start popping right away, chicken, meet egg! Once you hear the first seed or two popping, add the peppercorns and the fenugreek seeds. As the mustard seeds continue to pop, add the curry leaves. Of course, you’re stirring well to maximize heat transfer and hurting a bit as hot oil splatters on your arms (wait, that’s only me, nm).
  • If the oil temperature was just right, the peppercorns would pop before the fenugreek seeds turn to tar, but it’s all right if that does not happen! I presume the perfect way to do this would be to add the peppercorns before the fenugreek, because the fenugreek takes very little time to fry, good tip for next time:-) The minute you smell the fenugreek seeds getting seasoned, add the onions and stir well. Adding a wet ingredient to the dry mix has the effect of stopping the frying of the dry ingredients in their tracks
  • The onions should take 10 minutes or so on medium heat. Use this time to dry grind your spices to a fine powder. I have an Indian super machine now, but I’ve used a coffee grinder before (you’ll never get the vague aftertaste of anise out of your coffee ever again, so I’d buy a dedicated spice grinder). Also, chop your garlic into thin slivers and your tomatoes fine.
  • Once the onions are mostly done, meaning translucent and beautiful, add the garlic and fry for a bit more after increasing the heat a little bit. Don’t caramelize, just sauté to translucent
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and add your fine ground spice mix. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and saute/fry under medium low until you’re getting a nice base going, meaning the tomatoes are cooked and becoming part of the liquid. It is okay to have a little bit of texture (my personal preference). Mash and stir constantly for this to happen.
  • At some point in time, you should have checked on your veggies to confirm they got steamed. Drain any excess water, but keep it, you may get to use it later 🙂
  • Add the veggies and mix around, let the sauce coat the veggies well.
  • Add the coconut milk, and salt (okay, I did not list salt, but did you expect a saltless dish?). Add to taste, of course.
  • Add some water (how much depends on how thick you like it, and it will thicken over time) and bring to a boil. Of course, if you had your veggie water saved, all the better
  • Season with cilantro, or my new seasoning favourite, the green tips of green onions.

Serve with rice, or chapatis, or naans, or your favourite carb. And remember to invite your friends over to share the meal, most important tip of all.

PS: No food photograph, sorry, didn’t see the point. It will look like a off white stew with vegetables floating around in it, and bits of green seasoning…